Escalation and Vietnamization
Johnson’s strategy was to continue a gradual escalation of the war, bombing military targets in a war of attrition that would not provoke overt intervention from China or the U.S.S.R. This scheme proved to be a no-win strategy that only prolonged the war. In an aggressive military campaign, success is measured by objectives attained—cities captured, military targets eliminated—but in a war of attrition, the only measure of success is body count. To be sure, American forces produced a massive body count among the enemy, but, just as Buddhist monks were willing to set themselves aflame, this enemy was prepared to die.
Motivated by nationalistic passion, the North Vietnamese did more than militarily infiltrate the South. Special political cadres won widespread support from the rural populace of the South. With this support, the Viet Cong enjoyed great mobility throughout the country, often fighting from a complex network of tunnels that were all but invisible. True, the growing numbers of U.S. troops were successful in clearing enemy territory. Yet U.S. numbers were never great enough to occupy that territory, and, once cleared, battle zones were soon overrun again. President Johnson and his advisors began to recognize that the war would not be won by U.S. intervention, and military efforts were increasingly directed toward Vietnamization—giving the ARVN (Army of the Republic of Vietnam) the tools and training to take over more and more of the fighting, so that U.S. forces could ultimately disengage. That word, Vietnamization, was endlessly repeated as a mantra of American war policy, even as it became increasingly apparent that the South Vietnamese did not support their own government and had little will to fight.